On his X social media platform, Mr Musk forwarded, to his 158.6 million followers, a message noting how eight German non-governmental organisations received public funding for missions to rescue shipwrecked migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Mr Musk added: “Is the German public aware of this?”
“Yes,” Germany’s foreign office replied on X, formerly Twitter. “And it’s called saving lives.”
The Tesla founder responded: “Frankly, I doubt that a majority of the German public supports this ... surely it is a violation of the sovereignty of Italy for Germany to transport vast numbers of illegal immigrants to Italian soil? Has invasion vibes...”
Berlin officials criticised Mr Musk – a US- based Canadian citizen born in South Africa – for giving publicity to a message that ended: “Let’s hope AfD wins the elections to stop this European suicide.”
The Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think-tank affiliated with the Green Party, attacked the Tesla founder and X owner for spreading “election propaganda” days before Sunday’s state elections in Bavaria and Hesse.
With nearly 15 million due to vote, at a time when 220,000 new arrivals to Germany this year have sought asylum, the state elections have supercharged Germany’s migration debate. Last week foreign minister Annalena Baerbock held what her visiting Italian counterpart called “frank” talks about why Berlin underwrites private rescue missions.
“Volunteer sea rescuers ... are committed to countering the deaths in the Mediterranean with humanity because the European joint sea rescue service Mare Nostrum no longer exists,” said Ms Baerbock, referring to the Italian government’s year-long operation that rescued more than 100,000 migrants before ending in 2014.
But Germany’s stance has infuriated Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni. She has expressed her “amazement” to chancellor Olaf Scholz that Berlin provides two projects with up to €1.6 million in annual funding to finance ships.
Meanwhile, German local authorities have sounded the alarm because Berlin has refused to provide them with additional funding to house, feed and educate new arrivals.
As pressure builds, even Green Party leaders are being forced to revise their traditional liberal migration approach – still backed by many grassroots members.
Days after senior Greens dropped their opposition to a robust EU joint migration plan, co-leader Omid Nouripour has shattered further party taboos by backing migration limits and faster deportations of failed asylum seekers.
“We see that the reality is changing and that in many municipalities the limit has been reached,” he said, calling for a more rigorous “steering” of migration policy. “Of course there will be limits, that is obvious. Whoever says there will be no steering or limits, that the borders should be open, is not living in reality.”
A similar pivot is happening in Mr Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), where senior members – and a growing number of rank-and-file members – back rapid deportations and tighter controls at outer EU borders.
While the Greens and SPD shift more to the political centre on migration, the conservative Christian Democratic Union and its CSU sister party are doing battle even further right with the AfD.
Regional polls suggest Bavarian and Hesse voters will this weekend give the far right 14 and 16 per cent support respectively.
In a final pre-election push the CDU/CSU is putting pressure on Berlin’s ruling coalition to abolish what it sees as overly generous welfare for failed asylum seekers, some of whom remain indefinitely in Germany.
On Monday CDU secretary general Carsten Linnemann accused Mr Scholz of promising migration reform but delivering “nothing but hot air”.
“We have no concrete proposals,” he said, “the chancellor keeps ducking away.”